The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 6:22 “The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone. 23 There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You get here?’ 26 Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.’ 28 Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ 30 So they said to Him, ‘What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.” 32 Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’ 34 Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, always give us this bread.’ 35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’” (NASB)
It had been a long day for Jesus and His disciples. Jesus spent the previous day preaching to thousands and healing hundreds of people. He multiplied few loaves of bread and a couple of fish and fed 5,000 men, plus their families. As darkness was about to fall, Jesus sent the people home and put His disciples into a boat and told them to set sail for Capernaum. Jesus stayed behind to rest and pray. The multitude saw all this transpire.
The disciples got part way across the lake when a storm arose. They struggled against the wind and waves and made almost no progress, until Jesus walked on the water and took control of things. They reached the shore as dawn was breaking. Then came some men from Tiberias who had gone to the place where Jesus had fed the 5,000. By the time they arrived, there was nothing to see. They loaded up passengers and set sail for Capernaum.
When they got to Capernaum they found Jesus and the disciples. Some in the crowd noticed something usual. When the disciples had left in the boat the night before Jesus wasn’t with them. They also knew that when morning there were no missing boats. Jesus hadn’t sailed to Capernaum. No one saw Him walk around the lake. So when they found Him they asked, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (John 6:25) Seems like an innocent question, but Jesus isn’t interested in answering that question. He uses the opportunity to address a flaw in human nature.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.’”
When Jesus fed the 5,000, He had performed a sign and the people responded in precisely the wrong way. They focused more on the sign than on the One to whom the sign was pointing. They focused on temporal bread rather than Jesus as the Bread of Life; the Giver of eternal life.
They were thinking “free food.” And people say the Bible isn’t relevant to today’s culture. We have a government paying people not to work and they like it. We have people who get a monthly supply of food they don’t have to work for. We have businesses begging people to come back to work, offering more money and more benefits and still a great many people stay home doing nothing. We have created generations of dependant classes of people who live only in the moment and do little or nothing to be of service to their neighbor.
Before Jesus fed the 5,000 bread and fish, He fed them with His Word. He preached, taught, forgave their sins, and healed the congregation. Now the people followed Jesus to Capernaum in the hope they’d get more free food. In John 6:15, right after they had finished eating the bread and fish, the people wanted to “take Him by force to make Him king.” They hadn’t yet given up on that goal.
But Jesus’s response is to take people in a more substantive and spiritual direction. Jesus is primarily concerned with the most serious human condition, the condition that causes all other harmful human conditions.
In the subsequent verses the words “signs” and “works”go back and forth like a ping pong ball. Jesus said to them, “You seek Me, not because you saw signs . . . 27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life. They respond, (verse 28) “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”
In verse 28 the sense of the word “works” is “what must we do so that we can do the works of God?” They want a list of good deeds of works that God will approve of. They are thinking of what they can do in order to get what they want.
Jesus replied, 29 “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” In this context “the work of God” is the work that God does without human aid. It is the work God accomplishes in us through His Word and Sacrament ministry. The work that God does is the creation of faith in the human heart.
Faith is not a personal quality that God expects of you. It is not an exercise of a non-existent free will. Rather, faith is the instrument that God gives you that you might receive His grace, mercy, and forgiveness of sins. Faith is not the ends. It is the means. We don’t have faith in faith. We have faith in Christ that we might have Christ. Luther wrote that faith is the hand that receives the Gospel.
30 “They said to Him, ‘What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?” In essence they are telling Jesus to prove Himself to them by doing something for them. Even though they have already seen the works and heard the teachings of the Christ, the Son of the Living God they demand more. That’s human nature. We’re seeing this play out in our day. The more you give people, the more people want you to give them. They become addicted to the freebies. Free income. Free food. Free rent. Free utilities. In some states some people are getting &75,000 in free stuff. No wonder folks have come to believe they are entitled to whatever they want. In many places people can walk right in to a store, take what they want and walk right out without worry.
The whole exchange here in Capernaum shows that the people here are trapped in the bottom level of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs: food and other bodily needs. It shows that they don’t understand and don’t believe. They’re stuck. 31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:31) They are trying to bate Jesus to do what the think Moses did. And they forget too. They forget that their ancestors quickly grew tired of the manna and complained about it. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” (Numbers 21:5)
The old nature is never satisfied. It will always ask for more signs, more proofs, more reasons. That’s why the Evangelist John added this commentary to his Gospel in John 2:23-24. “Many believed in His name as they observed His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, because He knew all people.”
Martin Luther said of the people Jesus was talking to here;
“This announcement that the Gospel would fill their bellies, that it would provide plentifully for this life and afford a good living, pleases them. They say, as it were: “This would be the man for us. Who would not like him?” We, too, would like such a preacher. They pay no attention to Christ’s words to learn where He wants to lead them, but they are happy over the prospect that He will fill their bellies and give them only earthly goods and money. But that is not the point. The Gospel does not fill the belly; it has something different to do. Times have not changed. When the Gospel is preached, everyone is eager to reap a sufficient store of earthly goods from it.” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John)
The people invoked the miracle of manna, but did so without understanding. “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (vv 32–33).
Jesus wants to make sure they understand three things. First, who was it that gave their forefathers the manna–God. Second, Who was giving them the real bread, the bread that gives real life– God the Father. Third, what is the bread that comes down from heaven–it is the Christ of God, Jesus Himself.
“They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” (vv 34–35)
This was not the first time Jesus promised to quench the sinners’ thirst. Remember the Samaritan woman at the well? (John 4:13-14) “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again. . . but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Jesus’s Bread of Life sermon goes to the end of chapter six. At the beginning of His sermon bread, hunger, eating, thirsting, and drinking are all metaphors for Christ, the Gospel, and faith. They’re all about Jesus and believing in Him. Later in the sermon Jesus moves from metaphors to sacramental eating in faith. The partaking of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper in faith.
As remarkable as the manna from heaven was, it was meant to point to a greater miracle: God sending His Son to earth to be born of the Virgin Mary. To demonstrate His godhood, Jesus performed miracles and fed 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. This too was done to point to a greater miracle. As Jesus provided food for a multitude, He won salvation for the world by His death and resurrection. He finished the work, paid the price, and all who believe in Him will be saved.
Here, then, are the signs and works of God for you. First, the works: Jesus has done them all. He led the perfect life and died the death of sinners. Jesus has done all good works in your stead and He gives you the credit for them as He forgives your sins. He took your place. He took your sins into Himself and imputes His perfection on you.
As for the signs. The first sign is the preaching and teaching of the Law and Gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
The second sign is Holy Baptism. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit combines His Word with water and washes you clean, creates a new nature, adopts you into the family, and seals you in grace.
The third sign is Holy Absolution. A pastor stands before you and says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When the pastor says that He is not describing something to you. He is doing it to you.
The fourth sign is Holy Communion. Jesus Christ is the Living Bread that came down from heaven. In Holy Communion He joins Himself to the elements of bread and wine and gives you the forgiveness of sins. The bread and wine are not just symbols of Christ’s forgiveness: In, with and under them are His body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins.
In today’s world these signs appear mundane, silly, born of a primitive superstition, and for the weak of mind. I just saw a news report, social media has begun work on creating virtual worship services so people don’t need to go to a church, synagogue, or temple. They can just stand home and strap on the viewer. No need to listen to a man of flesh and blood, to worship along the side of people of flesh and blood, no need for water and the Word on the head, and no need to partake of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. We have Facebook.
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong…” (1 Corinthians 1:27) Here in the real world, the Word and Sacrament ministry is instituted and sent from God not Mark Zuckerberg.
Christ is the One who gives you salvation today by His Word and Sacraments. He is the One who declares to you today, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
MAY THE PEACE THAT SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEART AND MIND IN CHRIST JESUS. AMEN.